Review: The Wave (Bølgen) (Scandinavian Film Festival 2016)

Scandinavian Film Festival 2016 - The Wave/Bølgen

Bolgen/The Wave posterNorway’s first disaster movie holds true to the tricks of the genre, but does it with designer furniture and prettier landscapes.

As the stock footage playing over the opening credits informs us, the precarious crumbling mountains that surround Norway’s Tafjord could result in an incredible disaster. Based loosely on the real-life 1934 disaster, when 2 million cubic metres of rock fell into the Tafjorden and caused a deadly tsunami, director Roar Uthaug updates the concept with the conventions of modern blockbusters.

THE WAVE (or BØLGEN) follows geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), who is ready to leave town with his wife and son. Working at the Early Warning Centre, there are indicators that an event could be on its way, but true to convention, nobody is willing to commit to this during tourist season. When disaster strikes, and the mountain gives way to a massive tidal wave, the town is given less than ten minutes to evacuate from the wave of destruction. The film rapidly becomes a series of vignettes of the various cast members attempting to escape microcosms of the wider disaster, a pattern that will undoubtedly be familiar to fans of the sub-genre.

Writers John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg have clearly been influenced by the plethora of Hollywood disaster films of the last few decades, with Dante’s Peak and Twister notable touchstones for THE WAVE. From colleague Arvid (Fridtjov Saheim) – seemingly taking on the role of the mayor from Jaws – through to the chaotic finale, Uthaug’s film systematically ticks off elements of the formula. People are trapped in air pockets, separated from family members, and running en masse from traffic jams. There’s even that one guy who goes a little crazy and tries to kill his companions.

It’s all been done before, of course, but where THE WAVE differs from Hollywood fare is both in the cultural realities and the filmmaking style. The shopfront and narrative might be drenched in a recognisable tropes, but John Christian Rosenlund’s crisp photography elevates this above standard offerings. The beautiful Norwegian exteriors do at least some of the heavy lifting in this regard, but it makes a welcome change from Los Angeles skyscrapers, and adds a distinctive Scandinavian flavour to the mix. While Uthaug doesn’t break any new ground in the disaster movie category, he wrangles its threads to his own world view, leaving us with a timely reminder that this very real scenario could strike at any time.

THE WAVE (BØLGEN) is playing at the Scandinavian Film Festival 5 July – 3 Auaround Australia. Check for times.

2015 | Norway | DIR: Roar Uthaug | WRITERS: John Kåre Raake, Harald Rosenløw-Eeg | CAST: Kristoffer Joner, Thomas Bo Larsen, Fridtjov Såheim, Ane Dahl Torp | DISTRIBUTOR: Madman Entertainment (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes | RATING: ★★★½